After sorting through newspaper articles from the last 40 years regarding the murder of Darlene Russell, below is the story told by local media.
The murder scene
Milton resident Jerry Adkins who lived less than a mile from Fayette County Line Rd., also known as "lover's lane," traveled the desolate road often. The gravel road is just over a quarter of a mile long and was surrounded by a wooded area and farmland, with only one house that sits back off the road. According to Adkins, he had noticed a pair of jeans hanging on the fence line along the familiar route on Harry Caldwell's farm for a couple of days. Harry was the father of the Fayette County Sheriff at the time, James Caldwell. On the afternoon of Tuesday, Sept. 22, 1981, Adkins's curiosity got the better of him, and decided to stop and inspect the jeans further. When he did, he found a woman decomposing on the other side of the fence near the jeans. Adkins reported the body to the Fayette County Sheriff's Department (FCSD).
After arriving on the scene, police knew they were dealing with a suspected homicide after finding Darlene Russell, 21, of Connersville, badly beaten with her throat slit, naked from the waist down. Fayette County Sheriff James Cadwell was at the scene and knew Darlene and the Russell family. "I didn't recognize her," Caldwell told the News Examiner. "It was a horrible scene...it appeared to me that the car stopped in the middle of the road, her throat had been cut in the car, and she was drug and then thrown over the fence. Then her clothes were thrown over. That was the appearance." Officers requested Indiana State Police (ISP) assistance at the scene, and the Wayne County homicide investigation team, including Richmond police, the Wayne County Sheriff's Department and Coroner, and ISP, was activated to investigate the case. The Connersville Police Department also assisted.
During the investigation, police determined Caldwell's theory was accurate. Darlene had been killed in the road where they found her underwear and then dropped on the other side of the fence. No murder weapon was discovered on the scene.
Subsequently, an autopsy was ordered and completed by forensic pathologist Dr. John Bless in Bloomington, and determined that Darlene had several blows to the head but ultimately died from blood loss due to the knife wound on her throat. Bless estimated she had been dead roughly two days before being found. The Wayne County Coroner, Dr. John M. Wambo, who was a member of the Wayne County Homicide Investigation Team, was present at the autopsy and said laboratory results were not available to determine if she had been sexually assaulted, but stated, "We have reason to believe this may have occurred."
A brutal murder and possible rape, no suspects
In an article released by the Connersville News Examiner after Darlene's death, ISP District Commander of the Connersville Post First Sgt Donald Brackman said police had made no arrests and were in the preliminary stages of tracing Darlene after the last time she was seen in Connersville the night of Sept. 20. The article further stated that Brackman said she was reportedly last seen at the home of a female friend.
Just over a year later, an article titled "15-month case is still open," written by Harold Wiley, was published. ISP hoped to renew public awareness of the homicide. Brackman provided an update and said, "It's a case we're still working. It was worked hard by the homicide team and by detectives assigned to Fayette County. The Darlene Russell case is not dormant, and we want people to know, if you have information on it, we'll interview you and keep it confidential if necessary."
The article further stated Detective Gerald Sons said authorities interviewed 78 people "who had some knowledge of her or her case, but none of them had information that led to anything." The lab work and forensic autopsy provided no answers either. Sons also reported the investigation ranged as far away as Beaville, Ky, where the victim had friends and relatives and had visited the week before her death. However, no suspects were identified.
Initially, Brackman said Darlene was last seen with a female friend, but in the latter article, Sons said Darlene was last seen alive leaving the Kozy Korner about 4:30 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 20 and had been drinking heavily. Sons further stated there was no evidence Darlene had been raped, although it had also been previously reported the Wayne County Coroner had said there was reason to believe she had been sexually assaulted.
Thirty years later
Over three decades after the murder, in 2013, the Connersville News Examiner released an article, "Family still seeks closure," written by James Sprague, shedding further light on the murder and the last time Darlene was seen. Larry Russell, Darlene's older brother, said family members saw her after she left Kozy Korner in the early morning hours when she came home and told her mother she was going to Kentucky to visit some friends. "She told my mom goodbye and said she'd see her in the next week or so for her birthday," Larry told the Connersville News Examiner. "She was going to come back, and she never did make it." According to ISP detective Brent Dougherty who was assigned to Darlene's case at the time, nothing new had come in on Darlene's case since ISP had closed the operating post in Connersville three years prior.
Ted McQuinley, a retired member of the Fayette County Sheriff's Department who was assigned to the case in the beginning, also spoke out in the 2013 article stating, "I'm sure there's some people that know some facts that never relayed it to law enforcement. I've always had the hopes that someone with information would relay it to law enforcement."
A month after the article was released, Dougherty told the News Examiner he had received three phone calls since the story was published, two of which he deemed valid. He added the calls included new information related to the case that he had not heard before. Despite the slight surge in seemingly valid tips in 2013, Darlene's case remains unsolved, as it has for the past 41 years. If you have any information regarding Darlene's case, please contact the Indiana State Police at (765) 778-2121.
I was able to obtain two police reports from the Wayne County Sheriff's Department regarding the initial investigation that, according to witnesses, provides some idea of the night Darlene was last seen. In part III, that information will be shared.